When Cowardice Becomes The Lowest Common Denominator Of Political Leadership

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Silence is the easiest and the most dangerous redoubt of politicians who believe only in leading from the rear.

When an act of violence, against person or property, is committed in the name of a political ideology. And leaders do not condemn immediately.

When leaders do not separate the violent from the non-violent protester. When they allow conflation between those who want to build, and those who want merely to destroy.

When leaders find it all too convenient to bend to the wind, and fail to take positions they know to be right, simply because those decisions might be unpopular.

When leaders turn a blind eye to their own hypocrisy, because it suits their electoral chances.

I believe in the will of the majority. I also believe in the rights of the minority. I choose to listen to those advancing both doctrines only when they expressly subscribe to non-violent implementation. And implementation which is devoid of poisonous emotion.

The fact is there was a Civil War in the US. One side won. The other side lost. A safe and functioning democratic union requires that one side forgives and the other demonstrates magnanimity.

The winners cannot expect a true peace if they simply deny any and all aspects of the cultural heritage and identity of the losers.

The losers cannot expect magnanimity if they do not accept that some part of what was defeated was defeated because it represented an anathema to those who won.

And then the entire edifice becomes a clusterfuck because of cowardice.

Leaders among the ‘winners’ choose not to protect legitimate cultural heritage. Because it is easier simply to conflate it with all the garbage we know is no longer legitimate.

Leaders among the ‘losers,’ in turn, contribute to the clusterfuck by also choosing to conflate legitimate heritage with symbology they know is offensive, simply to get a raise out of their former opponents.

Leaders on both sides demonstrate innate hypocrisy by demanding identity protection for one section of society, but not for all of the different groupings.

The Nazi logo was originally a sign of abundance and peace. No-one would pretend that now. Much the same is true of the Confederate flag. Whatever the flag may have represented before the Civil War, it has now been too associated with hate for it to be seen as a symbol of anything else. That is the reality now.

I argued this when I wrote to the Mayor of Atlanta in 1996. And stated (as did many others) that the flag of the State of Georgia, containing as it still did at that point the Confederate flag, simply could not be flown alongside the flag of the Olympic movement. That was the reality then.

Yet, we cannot just wipe out the cultural heritage of an entire region of the United States, simply because we do not like one symbol. It is not politic. It is not realistic. It is not magnanimous. And it will only lead to more hate and violence.

Equally, we cannot persist in (literally) wrapping the entirety of that cultural heritage in a symbol which, at the very least, is an abhorrence to large parts of the remainder of the US. Realistically, we have to accept that the flag must be denied, in order to salvage the remainder of the cultural heritage.

There are legitimate fears on all sides of the racial divide in the US. To believe otherwise is to bury our heads in the sand. We cannot adequately address those fears unless and until we separate them from violence. Unless and until our leaders find the courage to call out, condemn and, if necessary, prosecute every single act of violence perpetrated by thugs on either side of the racial divide. Whether that act of violence is against a person or property.

I know something about dealing with black-clad thugs from my days with Occupy. It is pretty much an advertisement for people who have no interest in understanding, reaching out or finding solutions. It is the uniform of those who want to rip society apart, so that they may feel free to live without accountability to their community.

It is time for all our political leaders to distinguish between legitimate cultural identity and symbols of hatred. Between legitimate arguments and hateful polemic. Between legitimate protest and incitement to violence. And between those who want to build and those who want only to destroy.

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Black-Clad Thugs (Plural)

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I might actually be prepared to listen to the black-clad thugs on both sides of the race argument in the US if I ever once heard them demonstrating about building something positive as opposed to tearing it down, throwing a rock at it, or running a car into it.

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Charlottesville: Is Militaristic Violence the Ambition?

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I am borrowing a link from Facebook Friend, Gary Hall. The post, which describes itself as an unbiased first-hand observation of the protests in #Charlottesville last Saturday (August, 12, 2017), is a little amateurish and incoherent. But I find it compelling because it is so patently honest and unbiased; patent not least because of its amateurishness and its incoherence.

And it raises two concerns: (1) The extent to which so many participants – on both sides – were so obviously looking for violent clash (top two pics above); and (2) The extent to which the police appeared to want to do nothing to stop the same.

I’m not going to say much about (1). The post includes photo’s I have not seen predominantly highlighted in the mainstream media. What I will say is that, taking into account the apparent reluctance of the police. I am surprised, not to mention relieved, that there were not more injuries.

I am really left unmoved by the narrative of any group or groupings who so clearly are spoiling for violence. And I don’t want to hear the line: well, it wasn’t all of us. If it wasn’t you, condemn the others publicly and vehemently. Refuse to be associated with them. Report them to the authorities. Hand over names. Otherwise you are a part of the culture supporting violence. Period.

I am more concerned though by the seeming behavior of the police. Look. I’m not stupid. If I was a police chief, I might well turn to a mayor and say: my boys want to go home unscathed. You’ve got two factions armed to the teeth. We ain’t getting in between them. But I have an itchy feeling that something else may have been at play here.

Those of you who know me will remember that I was tangentially involved in the activities of #OccupyChapelHill for a while. Met some thugs. But also met a swath of very interesting people, of all sorts of political beliefs, many of whom had very different perspectives to offer me.

Two very interesting matters flowed from #OCH. The first was the use by the local police, on a somnolent Sunday afternoon, of a militarily-outfitted SWAT team to throw out a bunch of black-dressed layabouts from an unused building in the center of Chapel Hill – population: 60,000 (pic bottom left above).

A couple of local worthies did a little poking about at the time. And they turned up the information that there was some sort of law enforcement conference taking place in Chapel Hill that weekend. Folks from unspecified law enforcement agencies, gathering somewhere unspecified, to talk about matters unspecified. All very Dick Cheney.

The point was that, to the extent that there was any information offered about this gathering. It was confirmed that the law enforcement ‘guests’ were ‘observing’ the occupied building on the Saturday, along with their hosts. That said law enforcement guests left town late Sunday afternoon. But no-one was prepared to say what they were doing for the rest of Sunday (the SWAT team activity took place Sunday afternoon).

Why did this catch the attention of some of us? Well, we figured that, if the hosts were up to their armpits first surveilling said occupied building, then planning a SWAT intervention, and then undertaking said SWAT intervention. Said guests might have been at loose ends. And might have wanted to go home. Unless. They weren’t at loose ends. Unless. Their appearance in Chapel Hill that weekend was no accident.

When one or two of us suggested publicly that perhaps one or two of those guests might have been among those wearing SWAT helmets on Franklin Street, in somnolent Chapel Hill, that Sunday afternoon, there was a resounding silence. We never were told what said ‘guests’ did to pass the time, while their hosts were otherwise ‘occupied’ (Geddit? ‘Occupied’? Oh why do I bother?).

The second matter of interest was the discovery that #OrangeCounty (in which Chapel Hill, NC is situated) apparently had possession of possibly more than one police armored personnel carrier (pic bottom right above). I wrote about both issues on a local political forum. If you’re at all interested in what I wrote in that post, you can find more posts on the same subjects by searching the #OrangePolitics site with my name.

I later appeared on a chat show on our local community radio station (#WCOM – on which I used to have my own community chat show; who need money; and so a quick shout-out to all of them). On that show, a gentleman, whom I regard as having credibility, told me that he had seen a warehouse within the boundaries of Orange County, allegedly containing all manner of military equipment, stored apparently for use by local police forces.

I say all of this very carefully. But, having said it carefully, it leaves me concerned. And left me so at the time.

There was some not inconsiderable discussion at the time of #Occupy – not in the mainstream media, of course – as to whether or not Occupy may have been used as a target for police agencies around the nation, supported by other centralized institutions, to experiment with certain public security and control techniques.

I knew then, and know now, that such discussion is on the very edge of tin-foil territory. So, with my lawyer’s training and natural skepticism, I approached any and all such discussion with a beady eye as to evidence.

I have offered what I witnessed and was told about Orange County, NC. I will say that, if one wants to impose a greater level of order in a society, one of the textbook ways to set it up is to ‘permit’ disorder. And there is something about Charlottesville that smells in this regard.

More than that, have a look and find out for yourselves.

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White Supremacy, or White Inferiority?

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Tim Stanley is a respected British conservative journalist. But even he gets his analysis of white supremacists wrong.

He says: “When African-Americans protest, they are expressing their powerlessness, they are punching upwards. White supremacists, by contrast, enjoy power and authority. They are punching downwards out of irrational hate.”

Let me be painfully clear. I am a liberal. I hate racism. I hate all -ism’s. I deplore any political posturing that is mindless and deliberately hurtful or violent.

I am not mindless. I am not stupid. I am not a patsy. I know the power of words. I also know they do not of themselves hurt. And I am not an apologist. An enabler. Or a ‘normalizer.’

I am, however, a realist. I have nothing but admiration for those of my fellow liberals who plant their flags firmly in the sand. Regardless of the consequence.

Who say: we will have nothing to do with any Trump supporters. Period. We do not care about the polls or the focus groups or the talking heads who declare that, if Democrats want to regain power, they need to win over at least some of the less obnoxious Trump voters.

Again, I have nothing but admiration for their Quixotic stance. But. At this point in our nation’s history. I do not casually allow to myself the luxury of risking further encroachment upon our civic affairs, any more than is necessary, of Trump’s poison. Just to maintain an idealistic posture.

I recognize, as indeed does Tim, that not all of of Trump’s supporters are Nazi’s. But they are, almost all of them, scared. And fear is a powerful unifying force.

What we have to do is separate out the different forms of fear. Those who simply fear anyone not like them. Those who simply hate out of fear. As distinct from those who are scared for other reasons. For their children’s education. For their job. For their health care. Those who fear not out of hate, but out of lost hope.

And before we can differentiate. Before we can effectively address those looking for revived hope, as opposed to those simply seeking an outlet for more hate. Before we can do that, we must first accurately identify why the haters hate.

And from my own personal perspective, I will say that, in my opinion, the majority of Nazi’s. Those who march. Those who drive cars into people. Those who spit. Those who curse. Do not do so out of a sense of superiority.

Yes. Whites outnumber blacks in this country. That does not automatically or naturally make them a supremacy. Superior. There are large numbers of whites who go out of their way to be thoroughly mindful of their obligation, their responsibility for and to the rights of all minorities.

The attitude affliction of ‘supremacy,’ on the other hand, is found primarily among those whites who feel they have lost. For generations. Who still harbor hate for what they feel was taken away from them.

The cultural attitude is not about money. It is about … well, culture. A lady (and I choose the term advisedly; a natural lady; of honest southern mountain stock; who wished no-one ill). This lady put it most pungently.

The abolition of slavery may have damaged the South’s economy on paper, she said. But the people who were hurt the most were the Southern white homesteaders. The trash of their day. Those on whom the better-educated, the more well-heeled, always looked down.

The livelihood of many of them was based upon a small holding. Where they did little. Needed less. Because many of those white homesteading families had a slave family, living in an unfurnished woodshed, with no windows, no amenities. A slave family to look after all their needs. Grow the food. Tend to the land. Serve the white family. A white family who were, in turn, able to spend their days doing what ‘white trash’ did and do best – lollygag.

Abolition took that lazy lifestyle away from all of those poor white landholders. And even if later generations have succeeded in bettering themselves. Many of them have never forgotten. Or forgiven.

When the black man (and woman and child) was emancipated, the poor white trash, according to my lady, had no-one else to kick but the dog. Whereas before, every lazy white landholder had a black person they could kick. Now, the freed and aspirational black slaves moved up the social ladder. And the poor white homesteaders were shifted downwards, to the bottom of the social heap.

Far from feeling supreme or superior in their attitude towards blacks, the hate of the white ‘supremacist’ comes from an entrenched and likely irredeemable cultural stigma of inferiority.

I do not say this to excuse. I do not excuse. I utterly and unequivocally condemn any and all white supremacists.

I say this because, until we realize that the hate of white ‘supremacists’ derives not from their perception of their own supremacy, but rather because of their perception that their ‘supremacy’ was taken away from them, then we will never be able to wean away from them those Trump supporters who fear, only because hope has been taken away from them.

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Is Political Venting Cathartic?

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Outrage is expressed across the internet at the (Friday, August 11, 2017) white nationalist march on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville. A gathering that is described as one of the largest of its kind in recent memory. The Democratic Party is, once again, tearing itself apart. With Berniecrats and centrists accusing each other of latent racism.

Is this the beginning of the end? Or the end of a beginning?

I do not like racism. I don’t like any –ism. I don’t condone any behavior which is driven by mindless posturing. Without any recourse to reflection and temperance. Especially if it leads to violence. And frankly, that includes much of the behavior of organizations like the AltRight – and BlackLivesMatter. If you care about an issue – especially what you might regard as targeted deaths. Do something about it. Don’t just respond to hate with more hate. And certainly not with violence.

But that appears to be the political order of the day in our world at the moment. What is important is not what is done. Not what is accomplished. Not what is real. Not the hard work, that takes years, and is most often done most effectively behind closed doors, away from photo ops. No. What is most important is what can end up in a Tweet. On Facebook. On Instagram. What gives us the fifteen minutes of attention to which we all now feel we are naturally entitled. What satisfies our immediate feelings. Regardless of consequence.

Deep in the heart of the CNN article about the most recent spat in the Democratic Party is the use of the phrase ‘tone police.’ And that sums it all up. The spat, as with so much in politics at the moment, is not about substance. It is about ‘tone.’ And to be brutally honest, much of that comes back to political posturing. Political profile. Political positioning.

I have no time for the Trigger Brigade or Call-Out Culture. Words are words. Yes, they can hurt. But they are not batons. They are not rubber hoses. They are not attack dogs. Whatever else may be happening in US society today. Whether we are happy or not with our President. Our Democratic leadership. The seeming whiteness of the Berniecrats. The apparent intolerance of BlackLivesMatter. Matched by the seething intolerance of the AltRight. Whether we like a statue or not. The name of a student hall. Indeed, whether or not we like the Trigger Brigade or Call-Out Culture. Whatever is happening. None of this is taking us back to the Fifties and before. None of it is violent revolution. The only ‘revolution’ using that moniker publicly, at the moment, is led by a peaceful 75-year old from Vermont. That is the context. Put it all in perspective.

But should we?

It would be easy to say, hey, just calm down. Stop playing to your gallery. Tone it down – on the subject of ‘tone police.’ Take a deep breath. Find common ground. But, you know. Whenever I’ve been in a facilitation, the first thing a moderator does is say, take five, vent, get it out. Leech the poison. Then, we can get down to business.

I’ve been as ‘guilty’ as anyone of encouraging more fruitful discussion. But maybe I’m wrong? Maybe all this venting is good? Needed? In which case, folks. Take a deep breath. Put it in perspective. There were no lynchings in Charlottesville. No white people have been shot at a BlackLivesMatter protest. The petition-bearers at the DNC weren’t sent to segregated bathrooms. A statue is just a statue. And words are still just words.

So. Vent away. Maybe all this polarizing and demonizing is a good thing? Maybe we need a President who is a demonizer-in-chief? If only for a while? Maybe, our society has been building up so many different heads of steam for so long now, that they all need to blow off for a while? Maybe we could all do with a period during which the poison is leeched?

Provided we keep it to just that. Provided we constantly self-monitor (so as to keep it all in perspective). Provided it does not lead to more hate and to violence. Provided we do admit, if only to ourselves, that more often than not it is just political manipulation. Political posturing. Provided we realize that, at some point, it can become harmful, if, as with facilitation, we do not eventually sit down, and start to engage meaningfully. To look for solutions. To undertake the hard work of substantive progress.

So. Be appalled. All you like. But then. Roll up sleeves. And begin to be grown up …

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Trump: Buffoon, or Threat?

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas

Now can we accept that this man is dangerous, and not merely a buffoon? And that what is required is considered opposition, not just self-gratifying Facebook screaming?

We need focus on a realistic path to potential impeachment. Without losing sight of how difficult this might be within the current Washington construct. A construct of widespread corruption, or at least irrelevance, which makes the pool of ordinary working Americans such a captive market for Trump’s toxic demagoguery. Which, in turn, demands rigid discipline when it comes to choosing metrics with which to encourage those potential swing Trump supporters to abandon him. All the while being painfully aware that the Democratic brand is not selling. And that it needs dramatic updating.

If we pretend to ourselves that Trump will simply implode on his own. That none of this is intentional. That his supporters will wake up on their own. That the ubiquitous demonstration of anti-Washington feeling does not include everyone in Washington, including Senators Sanders, Warren and Harris. That anti-elitism embraces any and all social engineering exercises which emanate from out-of-touch think tanks (whatever their political hue), as opposed to real-life solutions coming from the mouths of ordinary working folk. If we convince ourselves that we can offer trendy-sounding prescriptions from the past, when there is no evidence of widespread political support among those voters Democrats need to capture. If we think that dusting down old-style candidates will do the job. Then frankly, we are as bad as the 50% of Republicans who want a postponement of the 2020 election. And here’s the worst part. I might support them. If it gives Democrats more time to grow the f**k up.

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